As I was meditating this morning, our cat hopped up in my lap. It felt sweet to sit there with him. And yet – even though I was feeling fine and had plenty of time, there was this internal pressure to start zipping along with emails and calls and all the other clamoring minutiae of the day.
You see the irony. We rush about as a means to an end: as a method for getting results in the form of good experiences, such as relaxation and happiness. Hanging out with our cat, I was afloat in good experiences. But the autopilot inside the coconut still kept trying to suck me back into methods for getting relaxation and happiness – as if I weren’t already feeling that way! And of course, by jumping up and diving into doingness, I’d break the mood and lose the relaxation and happiness . . . that is the point of doingness.
Sometimes we do need to rush. Maybe you’ve got to get your kid to school on time, or your boss really has to have that report by end of day. OK.
But much of the time, we rev up and race about because of unnecessary internal pressures (like unrealistic standards for ourselves) or because external forces are trying to hurry us along for their own purposes (not because of our own needs).
How do you feel when you’re rushing? Perhaps there’s a bit of positive excitement, but if you’re like me, there’s mostly if not entirely a sense of tension, discomfort, and anxiety. This kind of stress isn’t pleasant for the mind, and over time it’s really bad for the body. Plus there’s a loss of autonomy: the rush is pushing you one way or another rather than you yourself deciding where you want to go and at what pace.
Instead, how about stepping aside from the rush as much as you can? And into your own well-being, health, and autonomy?
- For starters, be mindful of rushing – your own and others. See how other people assume deadlines that aren’t actually real, or get time pressured and intense about things that aren’t that important. (And yep, you get to decide for yourself what you think is real or important.) Notice the internal shoulds or musts or simply habits that speed you up.
- Then, when the demands of others bear down upon you, buy yourself time – what the psychologist and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach calls “the sacred pause” – in order to create a space in which you are free to choose how you will respond. Are you letting the rushing of others become your own? Slow down the conversation, ask questions, and find out what’s really true. Consider the sign I once saw in a car repair shop: “Your lack of planning is not my emergency.”
- On your own side of the street, try not to create “emergencies” for yourself. You can get a lot done at your own pace without rushing; plan ahead and don’t procrastinate until you’re forced into hurrying. More fundamentally, be realistic about your own resources. It’s a kind of modesty, a healthy humility, to finally admit to yourself and maybe others that you can’t carry five quarts in a one gallon bucket. There are 168 hours in a week, not 169. It’s also a kind of healthy renunciation, relinquishment, to set down the ego, drivenness, appetite, or ambition that overcommits and sets you up for rushing. And it’s a matter of seeing clearly what is, a matter of being in reality rather than being confused or in a sense deluded. Nkosi Johnson was the South African boy born with HIV who became a national advocate for children with AIDS before dying at about age 12, and not one of us can do more than what he said here: Do all you can, with what you have, in the time you have, in the place where you are.
- Also watch how the mind routinely gets caught up in becoming: in making plans that draw us into desires that draw us into rushing. The trick is to see this happening before it captures you.
- Most deeply, try to rest in and enjoy the richness of this moment. Even an ordinary moment – with its sounds, sights, tastes, smells, sensations, feelings, and thoughts – is amazingly interesting and rewarding. Afloat in the present, there’s no need to rush along to anything else.
Even when you don’t have a cat in your lap.